House Democrats ready to vote for Keystone to get to highway conference

House Democrats are poised to vote for an extension of highway funding despite language approving the Keystone oil pipeline.

Virtually every Democrat who took the floor to speak on the bill Wednesday said they would support the temporary extension of federal transportation funding to get to a conference with the Senate. 

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"Taking Republicans at their word that they are serious about moving this process forward — and it appears that they are — passage of this extension of current law through the end of the fiscal year will allow us to go to conference with the other body," said Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  

Republicans have sold the extension of highway funding through the end of September as a way to buy time for a longer conference with the Senate. Resolving differences between the two parties on funding is expected to be difficult and time consuming, particularly in an election year. 

"The purpose of this extension is that we can hopefully bring about resolution and conference legislation to complete our transportation bill," Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said Wednesday.

Democrats have pushed the House GOP to accept a two-year, $109 billion transportation that was approved by the Senate earlier this year, but Mica made clear Republicans would still not consider that. 

Mica called the highway bill being debated Wednesday "relatively clean," despite the fact that it includes the language authorizing the controversial cross-country oil pipeline that was rejected earlier this year by President Obama. 

Many House Democrats oppose that language, but it appears unlikely to win approval of the Senate in a conference with the House.

During previous debates about transportation continuing resolutions, Democrats have accused Republicans of "kicking the can down the road."

But on Wednesday, they said they could support the longer extension to get to a conference. 

"It appears that the House has finally found the path out of dysfunction junction," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) added. "We've been there too long.

"I will support this iteration [of the transportation extension] because I'm anxious to get to conference," DeFazio continued. "I'm anxious to get it done. I think we should get it done before May so states can capture the full construction season."

The House is expected to hold a final vote on its transportation extension, which would take effect on June 30, at about 3:45 p.m. Wednesday.